Thu, Jul 11, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Decyphering Vladimir Putin’s ambivalent stance on liberalism

By Stephen Holmes

Putin defends dictators such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from what he sees as Western encroachments, because he is ultimately concerned about his own uncertain grip on power. He has long believed that the US, before Trump, was using democracy promotion as a cover for its plot to oust him from the Kremlin.

However, far from a demonstration of masterful “trolling,” Putin’s remarks about liberalism actually betray a deep ambivalence about the current fragility of the “liberal idea.” Although Trump has weakened Western alliances and eschewed democracy promotion, as the Kremlin would have wished, he has also gone further, launching a project of full-scale democracy desecration, both at home and abroad.

Paradoxically, the end of the US’ interest in the global spread of democracy and liberalism poses a serious threat to Putin’s own position. Much of Putin’s domestic legitimacy stems from the fact that he has boldly stood up to a supposedly arrogant West.

However, now that Trump has abandoned everything the West once stood for, the anti-US card has lost its political resonance. In fact, an openly Russophile administration in the US might be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply.

Putin’s fears in this regard are revealed by his curious pivot toward the end of the Financial Times interview, when he commutes liberalism’s death sentence and admits that it actually deserves a degree of support. Although this about-face utterly contradicts his claim that liberalism has “ceased to exist,” it is in keeping with a leader who openly aspires to protect the international trading system from Trump’s “impatience” and “rashness.”

However, Putin’s unexpected nostalgia for the liberal world order is even more striking in his lamentation for the international arms control regime. While still arguing that the US’ reckless commitment to “regime change” is the primary motivation for non-democratic states to pursue a nuclear deterrent, he now recognizes the equal and opposite danger of Trump’s disengagement from all forms of multilateralism.

Should the US withdraw from its defense commitments in Europe or Asia, far more countries would feel the need to develop nuclear weapons to ensure their own security. In Trump’s dizzyingly unpredictable and increasingly unruly post-liberal world, illiberal autocracies, too, run the risk of “ceasing to exist.”

Stephen Holmes is a professor at New York University’s School of Law.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

This story has been viewed 1470 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top